The Way of a Man
by Emerson Hough
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"The next time we are shipwrecked together," said I, "I shall leave you on the boat. You do not know your friends!"

"Why do you say that?"

"And yet I knew you at once. I saw the ring on your hand, and recognized it—it is the same I saw in the firelight on the river bank, the night we left the Belle."

"How brilliant of you! At least you can remember a ring."

"I remember seeing the veil you wear once before—at a certain little meeting between Mr. Orme and myself."

"You seem to have been a haberdasher in your time, Mr. Cowles! Your memory of a lady's wearing apparel is very exact. I should feel very much nattered." None the less I saw the dimple come in her cheek.

She was pulling on her glove as she spoke. I saw embroidered on the gauntlet the figure of a red heart.

"My memory is still more exact in the matter of apparel," said I. "Miss Meriwether, is this your emblem indeed—this red heart? It seems to me I have also seen it somewhere before!"

The dimple deepened. "When Columbus found America," she answered, "it is said that the savages looked up and remarked to him, 'Ah, we see we are discovered!'"

"Yes," said I, "you are fully discovered—each of you—all of you, all three or four of you, Miss Ellen Meriwether."

"But you did not know it until now—until this very moment. You did not know me—could not remember me—not even when the masks were off! Ah, it was good as a play!"

"I have done nothing else but remember you."

"How much I should value your acquaintance, Mr. Cowles of Virginia! How rare an opportunity you have given me of seeing on the inside of a man's heart." She spoke half bitterly, and I saw that in one way or other she meant revenge.

"I do not understand you," I rejoined.

"No, I suppose you men are all alike—that any one of you would do the same. It is only the last girl, the nearest girl, that is remembered. Is it not so?"

"It is not so," I answered.

"How long will you remember me this time—me or my clothes, Mr. Cowles? Until you meet another?"

"All my life," I said; "and until I meet you again, in some other infinite variety. Each last time that I see you makes me forget all the others; but never once have I forgotten you."

"In my experience," commented the girl, sagely, "all men talk very much alike."

"Yes, I told you at the masked ball," said I, "that sometime I would see you, masks off. Was it not true? I did not at first know you when you broke up my match with Orme, but I swore that sometime I would know you. And when I saw you that night on the river, it seemed to me I certainly must have met you before—have known you always—and now—"

"You had to study my rings and clothing to identify me with myself!"

"But you flatter me when you say that you knew me each time," I ventured. "I am glad that I have given you no occasion to prove the truth of your own statement, that I, like other men, am interested only in the last girl, the nearest girl. You have had no reason—"

"My experience with men," went on this sage young person, "leads me to believe that they are the stupidest of all created creatures. There was never once, there is never once, when a girl does not notice a man who is—well, who is taking notice!"

"Very well, then," I broke out, "I admit it! I did take notice of four different girls, one after the other—but it was because each of them was fit to wipe out the image of all the others—and of all the others in the world."

This was going far. I was a young man. I urge no more excuse. I am setting down simply the truth, as I have promised.

The girl looked about, gladly, I thought, at the sound of a shuffling step approaching. "You, Aunt Mandy?" she called out. And to me, "I must say good-night, sir."

I turned away moodily, and found the embers of the fire at my own camp. Not far away I could hear the stamp of horses, the occasional sound of low voices and of laughter, where some of the enlisted men were grouped upon the ground. The black blur made by the wagon stockade and a tent or so was visible against the lighter line of the waterway of the Platte. Night came down, brooding with its million stars. I could hear the voices of the wolves calling here and there. It was a scene wild and appealing. I was indeed, it seemed to me, in a strange new world, where all was young, where everything was beginning. Where was the old world I had left behind me?

I rolled into my blankets, but I could not sleep. The stars were too bright, the wind too full of words, the sweep of the sky too strong. I shifted the saddle under my head, and turned and turned, but I could not rest. I looked up again into the eye of my cold, reproving star.

But now, to my surprise and horror, when I looked into the eye of my monitor, my own eye would not waver nor admit subjection! I rebelled at my own conscience. I, John Cowles, had all my life been a strong man. I had wrestled with any who came, fought with any who asked it, matched with any man on any terms he named. Conflict was in my blood, and always I had fought blithely. But never with sweat like this on my forehead! Never with fear catching at my heart! Never with the agony of self-reproach assailing me! Now, to-night, I was meeting the strongest antagonist of all my life, the only one I had ever feared.

It was none other than I myself, that other John Cowles, young man, and now loose in the vast, free, garden of living.

Yet I fought with myself. I tried to banish her face from my heart—with all my might, and all my conscience, and all my remaining principles, I did try. I called up to mind my promises, my duties, my honor. But none of these would put her face away. I tried to forget the softness of her voice, the fragrance of her hair, the sweetness of her body once held in my arms, all the vague charm of woman, the enigma, the sphinx, the mystery-magnet of the world, the charm that has no analysis, that knows no formula; but I could not forget. A rage filled me against all the other men in the world. I have said I would set down the truth. The truth is that I longed to rise and roar in my throat, challenging all the other men in the world. In truth it was my wish to stride over there, just beyond, into the darkness, to take this woman by the shoulders and tell her what was in my blood and in my heart—even though I must tell her even in bitterness and self-reproach.

It was not the girl to whom I was pledged and plighted, not she to whom I was bound in honor—that was not the one with the fragrant hair and the eyes of night, and the clear-cut face, and the graciously deep-bosomed figure—that was not the one. It was another, of infinite variety, one more irresistible with each change, that had set on this combat between me and my own self.

I beat my fists upon the earth. All that I could say to myself was that she was sweet, sweet, and wonderful—here in the mystery of this wide, calm, inscrutable desert that lay all about, in a world young and strong and full of the primeval lusts of man.



Before dawn had broken, the clear bugle notes of reveille sounded and set the camp astir. Presently the smokes of the cook fires arose, and in the gray light we could see the horse-guards bringing in the mounts. By the time the sun was faintly tinging the edge of the valley we were drawn up for hot coffee and the plain fare of the prairies. A half hour later the wagon masters called "Roll out! Roll out!" The bugles again sounded for the troopers to take saddle, and we were under way once more.

Thus far we had seen very little game in our westward journeying, a few antelope and occasional wolves, but none of the herds of buffalo which then roamed the Western plains. The monotony of our travel was to be broken now. We had hardly gone five miles beyond the ruined station house—which we passed at a trot, so that none might know what had happened there—when we saw our advance men pull up and raise their hands. We caught it also—the sound of approaching hoofs, and all joined in the cry, "Buffalo! Buffalo!" In an instant every horseman was pressing forward.

The thunderous rolling sound approached, heavy as that of artillery going into action. We saw dust arise from the mouth of a little draw on the left, running down toward the valley, and even as we turned there came rolling from its mouth, with the noise of a tornado and the might of a mountain torrent, a vast, confused, dark mass, which rapidly spilled out across the valley ahead of us. Half hid in the dust of their going, we could see great dark bulks rolling and tossing. Thus it was, and close at hand, that I saw for the first time in my life these huge creatures whose mission seemed to have been to support an uncivilized people, and to make possible the holding by another race of those lands late held as savage harvest grounds.

We were almost at the flanks of the herd before they reached the river bank. We were among them when they paused stupidly, for some reason not wishing to cross the stream. The front ranks rolled back upon those behind, which, crowded from the rear, resisted. The whole front of the mass wrinkled up mightily, dark humps arising in some places two or three deep. Then the entire mass sensed the danger all at once, and with as much unanimity as they had lacked concert in their late confusion, they wheeled front and rear, and rolled off up the valley, still enveloped in a cloud of white, biting dust.

In such a chase speed and courage of one's horse are the main essentials. My horse, luckily for me, was able to lay me alongside my game within a few hundred yards. I coursed close to a big black bull and, obeying injunctions old Auberry had often given me, did not touch the trigger until I found I was holding well forward and rather low. I could scarcely hear the crack of the rifle, such was the noise of hoofs, but I saw the bull switch his tail and push on as though unhurt, in spite of the trickle of red which sprung on his flank. As I followed on, fumbling for a pistol at my holster, the bull suddenly turned, head down and tail stiffly erect, his mane bristling. My horse sprang aside, and the herd passed on. The old bull, his head lowered, presently stopped, deliberately eying us, and a moment later he deliberately lay down, presently sinking lower, and at length rolled over dead.

I got down, fastening my horse to one of the horns of the dead bull. As I looked up the valley, I could see others dismounted, and many vast dark blotches on the gray. Here and there, where the pursuers still hung on, blue smoke was cutting through the white. Certainly we would have meat that day, enough and far more than enough. The valley was full of carcasses, product of the wasteful white man's hunting. Later I learned that old Mandy, riding a mule astride, had made the run and killed a buffalo with her own rifle!

I found the great weight of the bull difficult to turn, but at length I hooked one horn into the ground, and laying hold of the lower hind leg, I actually turned the carcass on its back. I was busy skinning when my old friend Auberry rode up.

"That's the first time I ever saw a bull die on his back," said he.

"He did not die on his back," I replied. "I turned him over."

"You did—and alone? It's rarely a single man could do that, nor have I seen it done in all my life with so big a bull."

I laughed at him. "It was easy. My father and I once lifted a loaded wagon out of the mud."

"The Indians," said Auberry, "don't bother to turn a bull over. They split the hide down the back, and skin both ways. The best meat is on top, anyhow"; and then he gave me lessons in buffalo values, which later I remembered.

We had taken some meat from my bull, since I insisted upon it in spite of better beef from a young cow Auberry had killed not far above, when suddenly I heard the sound of a bugle, sharp and clear, and recognized the notes of the "recall." The sergeant of our troop, with a small number who did not care to hunt, had been left behind by Belknap's hurried orders. Again and again we heard the bugle call, and now at once saw coming down the valley the men of our little command.

"What's up?" inquired Auberry, as we pulled up our galloping horses near the wagon line.

"Indians!" was the answer. "Fall in!" In a moment most of our men were gathered at the wagon line, and like magic the scene changed.

We could all now see coming down from a little flattened coulee to the left, a head of a line of mounted men, who doubtless had been the cause of the buffalo stampede which had crossed in front of us. The shouts of teamsters and the crack of whips punctuated the crunch of wheels as our wagons swiftly swung again into stockade. The ambulance was hurriedly driven into the center of the heavier wagons, which formed in a rude half circle.

After all, there seemed no immediate danger. The column of the tribesmen came on toward us fearlessly, as though they neither dreaded us nor indeed recognized us. They made a long calvacade, two hundred horses or more, with many travaux and dogs trailing on behind. They were all clad in their native finery, seemingly hearty and well fed, and each as arrogant as a king. They passed us contemptuously, with not a sidelong glance.

In advance of the head men who rode foremost in the column were three or four young women, bearing long lance shafts decorated with feathers and locks of human hair, the steel tips shining gray in the sun. These young women, perhaps not squires or heralds of the tribe, but wives of one or more of the head men, were decorated with brass and beads and shining things, their hair covered with gauds, their black eyes shining too, though directed straight ahead. Their garb was of tanned leather, the tunics or dresses were of elk skin, and the white leggins of antelope hide or that of mountain sheep. Their buffalo hide moccasins were handsomely beaded and stained. As they passed, followed by the long train of stalwart savage figures, they made a spectacle strange and savage, but surely not less than impressive.

Not a word was spoken on either side. The course of their column took them to the edge of the water a short distance above us. They drove their horses down to drink scrambled up the bank again, and then presently, in answer to some sort of signal, quietly rode on a quarter of a mile or so and pulled up at the side of the valley. They saw abundance of meat lying there already killed, and perhaps guessed that we could not use all of it.

"Auberry," said Belknap, "we must go talk to these people, and see what's up."

"They're Sioux!" said Auberry. "Like enough the very devils that cleaned out the station down there. But come on; they don't mean fight right now."

Belknap and Auberry took with them the sergeant and a dozen troopers. I pushed in with these, and saw Orme at my side; and Belknap did not send us back. We four rode on together presently. Two or three hundred yards from the place where the Indians halted, Auberry told Belknap to halt his men. We four, with one private to hold our horses, rode forward a hundred yards farther, halted and raised our hands in sign of peace. There rode out to us four of the head men of the Sioux, beautifully dressed, each a stalwart man. We dismounted, laid down our weapons on the ground, and approached each other.

"Watch them close, boys," whispered Auberry. "They've got plenty of irons around them somewhere, and plenty of scalps, too, maybe."

"Talk to them, Auberry," said Belknap; and as the former was the only one of us who understood the Sioux tongue, he acted as interpreter.

"What are the Sioux doing so far east?" he asked of their spokesman, sternly.

"Hunting," answered the Sioux, as Auberry informed us. "The white soldiers drive away our buffalo. The white men kill too many. Let them go. This is our country." It seemed to me I could see the black eyes of the Sioux boring straight through every one of us, glittering, not in the least afraid.

"Go back to the north and west, where you belong," said Auberry. "You have no business here on the wagon trails."

"The Sioux hunt where they please," was the grim answer. "But you see we have our women and children with us, the same as you have—and he pointed toward our camp, doubtless knowing the personnel of our party as well as we did ourselves.

"Where are you going?" asked our interpreter.

The Sioux waved his arm vaguely. "Heap hunt," he said, in broken English now. "Where you go?" he asked, in return.

Auberry was also a diplomat, and answered that we were going a half sleep to the west, to meet a big war party coming down the Platte, the white men from Laramie.

The Indian looked grave at this. "Is that so?" he asked, calmly. "I had not any word from my young men about a war party coming down the river. Many white tepees on wheels going up the river; no soldiers coming down this way."

"We are going on up to meet our soldiers," said Auberry, sternly. "The Sioux have killed some of our men below here. We shall meet our soldiers and come and wipe the Sioux off the land if they come into the valley where our great road runs west."

"That is good," said the Sioux. "As for us, we harm no white man. We hunt where we please. White men go!"

Auberry now turned to us. "I don't think they mean trouble, Lieutenant," he said, "and I think the best thing we can do is to let them alone and go on up the valley. Let's go on and pull on straight by them, the way they did us, and call it a draw all around."

Belknap nodded, and Auberry turned again to the four Sioux, who stood tall and motionless, looking at us with the same fixed, glittering eyes. I shall remember the actors in that little scene so long as I live.

"We have spoken," said Auberry. "That is all we have to say."

Both parties turned and went back to their companions. Belknap, Auberry and I had nearly reached our waiting troopers, when we missed Orme, and turned back to see where he was. He was standing close to the four chiefs, who had by this time reached their horses. Orme was leading by the bridle his own horse, which was slightly lame from a strain received in the hunt.

"Some buck'll slip an arrer into him, if he don't look out," said Auberry. "He's got no business out there."

We saw Orme making some sort of gestures, pointing to his horse and the others.

"Wonder if he wants to trade horses!" mused Auberry, chuckling. Then in the same breath he called, "Look out! By God! Look!"

We all saw it. Orme's arm shot out straight, tipped by a blue puff of smoke, and we heard the crack of the dragoon pistol. One of the Sioux, the chief who by this time had mounted his horse, threw his hand against his chest and leaned slightly back, then straightened up slightly as he sat. As he fell, or before he fell, Orme pushed his body clear from the saddle, and with a leap was in the dead man's place and riding swiftly toward us, leading his own horse by the rein!

It seemed that it was the Sioux who had kept faith after all; for none of the remaining three could find a weapon. Orme rode up laughing and unconcerned. "The beggar wouldn't trade with me at all," he said. "By Jove, I believe he'd have got me if he'd had any sort of tools for it."

"You broke treaty!" ejaculated Belknap—"you broke the council word."

"Did that man make the first break at you?" Auberry blazed at him.

"How can I tell?" answered Orme, coolly. "It's well to be a trifle ahead in such matters." He seemed utterly unconcerned. He could kill a man as lightly as a rabbit, and think no more about it.

Within the instant the entire party of the Sioux was in confusion. We saw them running about, mounting, heard them shouting and wailing.

"It's fight now!" said Auberry. "Back to the wagons now and get your men ready, Lieutenant. As soon as the Sioux can get shut of their women, they'll come on, and come a boilin', too. You damned fool!" he said to Orme. "You murdered that man!"

"What's that, my good fellow?" said Orme, sharply. "Now I advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head, or I'll teach you some manners."

Even as we swung and rode back, Auberry pushed alongside Orme, his rifle at ready. "By God! man, if you want to teach me any manners, begin it now. You make your break," he cried.

Belknap spurred in between them. "Here, you men," he commanded with swift sternness. "Into your places. I'm in command here, and I'll shoot the first man who raises a hand. Mr. Orme, take your place at the wagons. Auberry, keep with me. We'll have fighting enough without anything of this."

"He murdered that Sioux, Lieutenant," reiterated Auberry.

"Damn it, sir, I know he did, but this is no time to argue about that. Look there!"

A long, ragged, parti-colored line, made up of the squaws and children of the party, was whipping up the sides of the rough bluffs on the left of the valley. We heard wailing, the barking of dogs, the crying of children. We saw the Sioux separate thus into two bands, the men remaining behind riding back and forth, whooping and holding aloft their weapons. We heard the note of a dull war drum beating the clacking of their rattles and the shrill notes of their war whistles.

"They'll fight," said Auberry. "Look at 'em!"

"Here they come," said Belknap, coolly. "Get down, men."



The record of this part of my life comes to me sometimes as a series of vivid pictures. I can see this picture now—the wide gray of the flat valley, edged with green at the coulee mouths; the sandy spots where the wind had worked at the foot of the banks; the dotted islands out in the shimmering, shallow river. I can see again, under the clear, sweet, quiet sky, the picture of those painted men—their waving lances, their swaying bodies as they reached for the quivers across their shoulders. I can see the loose ropes trailing at the horses' noses, and see the light leaning forward of the red and yellow and ghastly white-striped and black-stained bodies, and the barred black of the war paint on their faces. I feel again, so much almost that my body swings in unison, the gathering stride of the ponies cutting the dust into clouds. I see the color and the swiftness of it all, and feel its thrill, the strength and tenseness of it all. And again I feel, as though it were to-day, the high, keen, pleasant resolution which came to me. We had women with us. Whether this young woman was now to die or not, none of us men would see it happen.

They came on, massed as I have said, to within about two hundred and fifty yards, then swung out around us, their horse line rippling up over the broken ground apparently as easily as it had gone on the level floor of the valley. Still we made no volley fire. I rejoiced to see the cool pallor of Belknap's face, and saw him brave and angry to the core. Our plainsmen, too, were grim, though eager; and our little band of cavalry, hired fighters, rose above that station and became not mongrel private soldiers, but Anglo-Saxons each. They lay or knelt or stood back of the wagon line, imperturbable as wooden men, and waited for the order to fire, though meantime two of them dropped, hit by chance bullets from the wavering line of horsemen that now encircled us.

"Tell us when to fire, Auberry," I heard Belknap say, for he had practically given over the situation to the old plainsman. At last I heard the voice of Auberry, changed from that of an old man into the quick, clear accents of youth, sounding hard and clear. "Ready now! Each fellow pick his own man, and kill him, d'ye hear, kill him!"

We had no further tactics. Our fire began to patter and crackle. Our troopers were armed with the worthless old Spencer carbines, and I doubt if these did much execution; but there were some good old Hawkin rifles and old big-bored Yagers and more modern Sharps' rifles and other buffalo guns of one sort or another with us, among the plainsmen and teamsters; and when these spoke there came breaks in the flaunting line that sought to hedge us. The Sioux dropped behind their horses' bodies, firing as they rode, some with rifles, more with bows and arrows. Most of our work was done as they topped the rough ground close on our left, and we saw here a half-dozen bodies lying limp, flat and ragged, though presently other riders came and dragged them away.

The bow and arrow is no match for the rifle behind barricades; but when the Sioux got behind us they saw that our barricade was open in the rear, and at this they whooped and rode in closer. At a hundred yards their arrows fell extraordinarily close to the mark, and time and again they spiked our mules and horses with these hissing shafts that quivered where they struck. They came near breaking our rear in this way, for our men fell into confusion, the horses and mules plunging and trying to break away. There were now men leaning on their elbows, blood dripping from their mouths. There were cries, sounding far away, inconsequent to us still standing. The whir of many arrows came, and we could hear them chuck into the woodwork of the wagons, into the leather of saddle and harness, and now and again into something that gave out a softer, different sound.

I was crowding a ball down my rifle with its hickory rod when I felt a shove at my arm and heard a voice at my ear. "Git out of the way, man—how can I see how to shoot if you bob your head acrost my sights all the time?"

There stood old Mandy McGovern, her long brown rifle half raised, her finger lying sophisticatedly along the trigger guard, that she might not touch the hair trigger. She was as cool as any man in the line, and as deadly. As I finished reloading, I saw her hard, gray face drop as she crooked her elbow and settled to the sights—saw her swing as though she were following a running deer; and then at the crack of her piece I saw a Sioux drop out of his high-peaked saddle. Mandy turned to the rear.

"Git in here, git in here, son!" I heard her cry. And to my wonder now I saw the long, lean figure of Andrew Jackson McGovern come forward, a carbine clutched in his hand, while from his mouth came some sort of eerie screech of incipient courage, which seemed to give wondrous comfort to his fierce dam. At about this moment one of the Sioux, mortally wounded by our fire, turned his horse and ran straight toward us hard as he could go. He knew that he must die, and this was his way—ah, those red men knew how to die. He got within forty yards, reeling and swaying, but still trying to fit an arrow to the string, and as none of us would fire on him now, seeing that he was dying, for a moment it looked as though he would ride directly into us, and perhaps do some harm. Then I heard the boom of the boy's carbine, and almost at the instant, whether by accident or not I could not tell, I saw the red man drop out of the forks of his saddle and roll on the ground with his arms spread out.

Perhaps never was metamorphosis more complete than that which now took place. Shaking off detaining hands, Andrew Jackson sprang from our line, ran up to the fallen foe and in a frenzy of rage began to belabor and kick his body, winding up by catching him by the hair and actually dragging him some paces toward our firing line! An expression of absolute beatitude spread over the countenance of Mandy McGovern. She called out as though he were a young dog at his first fight. "Whoopee! Git to him, boy, git to him! Take him, boy! Whoopee!"

We got Andrew Jackson back into the ranks. His mother stepped to him and took him by the hand, as though for the first time she recognized him as a man.

"Now, boy, that's somethin' like." Presently she turned to me. "Some says it's in the Paw," she remarked. "I reckon it's some in the Maw; an' a leetle in the trainin'."

Cut up badly by our fire, the Sioux scattered and hugged the shelter of the river bank, beyond which they rode along the sand or in the shallow water, scrambling up the bank after they had gotten out of fire. Our men were firing less, frequently at the last of the line, who came swiftly down from the bluff and charged across behind us, sending in a scattering flight of arrows as they rode.

I looked about me now at the interior of our barricade. I saw Ellen Meriwether on her knees, lifting the shoulders of a wounded man who lay back, his hair dropping from his forehead, now gone bluish gray. She pulled him to the shelter of a wagon, where there had been drawn four others of the wounded. I saw tears falling from her eyes—saw the same pity on her face which I had noted once before when a wounded creature lay in her hands. I had been proud of Mandy McGovern. I was proud of Ellen Meriwether now. They were two generations of our women, the women of America, whom may God ever have in his keeping.

I say I had turned my head; but almost as I did so I felt a sudden jar as though some one had taken a board and struck me over the head with all his might. Then, as I slowly became aware, my head was utterly and entirely detached from my body, and went sailing off, deliberately, in front of me. I could see it going distinctly, and yet, oddly enough, I could also see a sudden change come on the face of the girl who was stooping before me, and who at the moment raised her eyes.

"It is strange," thought I, "but my head, thus detached, is going to pass directly above her, right there!"

Then I ceased to take interest in anything, and sank back into the arms of that from which we come, calmly taking bold of the hand of Mystery.



I awoke, I knew not how much later, into a world which at first had a certain warm comfort and languid luxury about it. Then I felt a sharp wrenching and a great pain in my neck, to which it seemed my departed head had, after all, returned. Stimulated by this pain, I turned and looked up into the face of Auberry. He stood frowning, holding in his hand a feathered arrow shaft of willow, grooved along its sides to let the blood run free, sinew-wrapped to hold its feathers tight—a typical arrow of the buffalo tribes. But, as I joined Auberry's gaze, I saw the arrow was headless! Dully I argued that, therefore, this head must be somewhere in my neck. I also saw that the sun was bright. I realized that there must have been a fight of some sort, but did not trouble to know whence the arrow had come to me, for my mind could grasp nothing more than simple things.

Thus I felt that my head was not uncomfortable, after all. I looked again, and saw that it rested on Ellen Meriwether's knees. She sat on the sand, gently stroking my forehead, pushing back the hair. She had turned my head so that the wound would not be pressed. It seemed to me that her voice sounded very far away and quiet.

"We are thinking," said she to me. I nodded as best I could. "Has anything happened?" I asked.

"They have gone," said she. "We whipped them." Her hand again lightly pressed my forehead.

I heard some one else say, behind me, "But we have nothing in the world—not even opium."

"True," said another voice, which I recognized as that of Orme; "but that's his one chance."

"What do you know about surgery?" asked the first voice, which I knew now was Belknap's.

"More than most doctors," was the answer, with a laugh. Their voices grew less distinguishable, but presently I heard Orme say, "Yes, I'm game to do it, if the man says so." Then he came and stooped down beside me.

"Mr. Cowles," said he, "you're rather badly off. That arrow head ought to come out, but the risk of going after it is very great. I am willing to do what you say. If you decide that you would like me to operate for it, I will do so. It's only right for me to tell you that it lies very close to the carotid artery, and that it will be an extraordinarily nice operation to get it out without—well, you know—"

I looked up into his face, that strange face which I was now beginning so well to know—the face of my enemy. I knew it was the face of a murderer, a man who would have no compunction at taking a human life.

My mind then was strangely clear. I saw his glance at the girl. I saw, as clearly as though he had told me, that this man was as deeply in love with Ellen Meriwether as I myself; that he would win her if he could; that his chance was as good as mine, even if we were both at our best. I knew there was nothing at which he would hesitate, unless some strange freak in his nature might influence him, such freaks as come to the lightning, to the wild beast slaying, changes for no reason ever known. Remorse, mercy, pity, I knew did not exist for him. But with a flash it came to my mind that this was all the better, if he must now serve as my surgeon.

He looked into my eye, and I returned his gaze, scorning to ask him not to take advantage of me, now that I was fallen. His own eye changed. It asked of me, as though he spoke: "Are you, then, game to the core? Shall I admire you and give you another chance, or shall I kill you now?" I say that I saw, felt, read all this in his mind. I looked up into his face, and said:

"You cannot kill me. I am not going to die. Go on. Soon, then."

A sort of sigh broke from his lips, as though he felt content. I do not think it was because he found his foe a worthy one. I do not think he considered me either as his foe or his friend or his patient. He was simply about to do something which would test his own nerve, his own resources, something which, if successful, would allow him to approve his own belief in himself. I say that this was merely sport for him. I knew he would not turn his hand to save my life; but also I knew that he would not cost it if that could be avoided, for that would mean disappointment to himself. What he did he did well. I said then to myself that I would pay him if he brought me through—pay him in some way.

Presently I heard them on the sand again, and I saw him come again and bend over me. All the instruments they could find had been a razor and a keen penknife; and all they could secure to staunch the blood was some water, nearly boiling. For forceps Orme had a pair of bullet molds, and these he cleansed as best he could by dipping them into the hot water.

"Cowles," he said, in a matter-of-fact voice, "I'm going after it. But now I tell you one thing frankly, it's life or death, and if you move your head it may mean death at once. That iron's lying against the big carotid artery. If it hasn't broken the artery wall, there's a ghost of a chance we can get it out safely, in which case you would probably pull through. I've got to open the neck and reach in. I'll do it as fast as I can. Now, I'm not going to think of you, and, gad!—if you can help it—please don't think of me."

Ellen Meriwether had not spoken. She still held my head in her lap.

"Are you game—can you do this, Miss Meriwether?" I heard Orme ask. She made no answer that I could hear, but must have nodded. I felt her hands press my head more tightly. I turned my face down and kissed her hand. "I will not move," I said.

I saw Orme's slender, naked wrist pass to my face and gently turn me into the position desired, with my face down and a little at one side, resting in her lap above her knees. Her skirt was already wet with the blood of the wound, and where my head lay it was damp with blood. Belknap took my hands and pulled them above my head, squatting beyond me. Between Orme's legs as he stooped I could see the dead body of a mule, I remember, and back of that the blue sky I and the sand dunes. Unknown to her, I kissed the hem of her garment; and then I said a short appeal to the Mystery.

I felt the entrance of the knife or razor blade, felt keenly the pain when the edge lifted and stretched the skin tight before the tough hide of my neck parted smoothly in a long line. Then I felt something warm settle under my cheek as I lay, and I felt a low shiver, whether of my body or that of the girl who held me I could not tell; but her hands were steady. I felt about me an infinite kindness and carefulness and pitying—oh, then I learned that life, after all, is not wholly war—that there is such a thing as fellow-suffering and loving kindness and a wish to aid others to survive in this hard fight of living; I knew that very well. But I did not gain it from the touch of my surgeon's hands.

The immediate pain of this long cutting which laid open my neck for some inches through the side muscles was less after the point of the blade went through and ceased to push forward. Deeper down I did not feel so much, until finally a gentle searching movement produced a jar strangely large, something which grated, and nearly sent all the world black again. I knew then that the knife was on the base of the arrow head; then I could feel it move softly and gently along the side of the arrow head—I could almost see it creep along in this delicate part of the work.

Then, all at once, I felt one hand removed from my neck. Orme, half rising from his stooping posture, but with the fingers of his left hand still at the wound, said: "Belknap, let go one of his hands. Just put your hand on this knife-blade, and feel that artery throb! Isn't it curious?"

I heard some muttered answer, but the grasp at my wrists did not relax. "Oh, it's all right now," calmly went on Orme, again stooping. "I thought you might be interested. It's all over now but pulling out the head."

I felt again a shiver run through the limbs of the girl. Perhaps she turned away her head, I do not know. I felt Orme's fingers spreading widely the sides of the wound along the neck, and the boring of the big headed bullet molds as they went down after a grip, their impact softened by the finger extended along the blade knife.

The throbbing artery whose location this man knew so well was protected. Gently feeling down, the tips of the mold got their grip at last, and an instant later I felt release from a certain stiff pressure which I had experienced in my neck. Relief came, then a dizziness and much pain. A hand patted me twice on the back of the neck.

"All right, my man," said Orme. "All over; and jolly well done, too, if I do say it myself!"

Belknap put his arm about me and helped me to sit up. I saw Orme holding out the stained arrow head, long and thin, in his fingers.

"Would you like it?" he said.

"Yes," said I, grinning. And I confess I have it now somewhere about my house. I doubt if few souvenirs exist to remind one of a scene exactly similar.

The girl now kept cloths wrung from the hot water on my neck. I thanked them all as best I could. "I say, you men," remarked Mandy McGovern, coming up with a cob-stoppered flask in her hand, half filled with a pale yellow-white fluid, "ain't it about time for some of that thar anarthestic I heerd you all talking about a while ago?"

"I shouldn't wonder," said Orme. "The stitching hurts about as much as anything. Auberry, can't you find me a bit of sinew somewhere, and perhaps a needle of some sort?"



A vast dizziness and a throbbing of the head remained after they were quite done with me, but something of this left me when finally I sat leaning back against the wagon body and looked about me. There were straight, motionless figures lying under the blankets in the shade, and under other blankets were men who writhed and moaned. Belknap passed about the place, graver and apparently years older than at the beginning of this, his first experience in the field. He put out burial parties at once. A few of the Sioux, including the one on whom Andrew Jackson McGovern had vented his new-found spleen, were covered scantily where they lay. Our own dead were removed to the edge of the bluff; and so more headstones, simple and rude, went to line the great pathway into the West.

Again Ellen Meriwether came and sat by me. She had now removed the gray traveling gown, for reasons which I could guess, and her costume might have been taken from a collector's chest rather than a woman's wardrobe. All at once we seemed, all of us, to be blending with these surroundings, becoming savage as these other savages. It might almost have been a savage woman who came to me.

Her skirt was short; made of white tanned antelope leather. Above it fell the ragged edges of a native tunic or shirt of yellow buck, ornamented with elk teeth, embroidered in stained quills. Her feet still wore a white woman's shoes, although the short skirt was enforced by native leggins, beaded and becylindered in metals so that she tinkled as the walked. Her hair, now becoming yellower and more sunburned at the ends, was piled under her felt hat, and the modishness of long cylindrical curls was quite forgot. The brown of her cheeks, already strongly sunburned, showed in strange contrast to the snowy white of her neck, now exposed by the low neck aperture of the Indian tunic. Her gloves, still fairly fresh, she wore tucked through her belt, army fashion. I could see the red heart still, embroidered on the cuff!

She came and sat down beside me on the ground, I say, and spoke to me. I could not help reflecting how she was reverting, becoming savage. I thought this—but in my heart I knew she was not savage as myself.

"How are you coming on?" she said. "You sit up nicely—"

"Yes, and can stand, or walk, or ride," I added.

Her brown eyes were turned full on me. In the sunlight I could see the dark specks in their depths. I could see every shade of tan on her face.

"You are not to be foolish," she said.

"You stand all this nobly," I commented presently.

"Ah, you men—I love you, you men!" She said it suddenly and with perfect sincerity. "I love you all—you are so strong, so full of the desire to live, to win. It is wonderful, wonderful! Just look at those poor boys there—some of them are dying, almost, but they won't whimper. It is wonderful."

"It is the Plains," I said. "They have simply learned how little a thing is life."

"Yet it is sweet," she said.

"But for you, I see that you have changed again."

She spread her leather skirt down with her hands, as though to make it longer, and looked contemplatively at the fringed leggins below.

"You were four different women," I mused, "and now you are another, quite another."

At this she frowned a bit, and rose. "You are not to talk," she said, "nor to think that you are well; because you are not. I must go and see the others."

I lay back against the wagon bed, wondering in which garb she had been most beautiful—the filmy ball dress and the mocking mask, the gray gown and veil of the day after, the thin drapery of her hasty flight in the night, her half conventional costume of the day before—or this, the garb of some primeval woman. I knew I could never forget her again. The thought gave me pain, and perhaps this showed on my face, for my eyes followed her so that presently she turned and came back to me.

"Does the wound hurt you?" she asked. "Are you in pain?"

"Yes, Ellen Meriwether," I said, "I am in pain. I am in very great pain."

"Oh," she cried, "I am sorry! What can we do? What do you wish? But perhaps it will not be so bad after a while—it will be over soon."

"No, Ellen Meriwether," I said, "it will not be over soon. It will not go away at all."



We lay in our hot camp on the sandy valley for some days, and buried two more of our men who finally succumbed to their wounds. Gloom sat on us all, for fever now raged among our wounded. Pests of flies by day and mosquitoes by night became almost unbearable. The sun blistered us, the night froze us. Still not a sign of any white-topped wagon from the east, nor any dust-cloud of troopers from the west served to break the monotony of the shimmering waste that lay about us on every hand. We were growing gaunt now and haggard; but still we lay, waiting for our men to grow strong enough to travel, or to lose all strength and so be laid away.

We had no touch with the civilization of the outer world. At that time the first threads of the white man's occupancy were just beginning to cross the midway deserts. Near by our camp ran the recently erected line of telegraph, its shining cedar poles, stripped of their bark, offering wonder for savage and civilized man alike, for hundreds of miles across an uninhabited country. We could see the poles rubbed smooth at their base by the shoulders of the buffalo. Here and there a little tuft of hair clung to some untrimmed knot. High up in some of the naked poles we could see still sticking, the iron shod arrows of contemptuous tribesmen, who had thus sought to assail the "great medicine" of the white man. We heard the wires above us humming mysteriously in the wind, but if they bore messages east or west, we might not read them, nor might we send any message of our own.

At times old Auberry growled at this new feature of the landscape. "That was not here when I first came West," he said, "and I don't like its looks. The old ways were good enough. Now they are even talkin' of runnin' a railroad up the valley—as though horses couldn't carry in everything the West needs or bring out everything the East may want. No, the old ways were good enough for me."

Orme smiled at the old man.

"None the less," said he, "you will see the day before long, when not one railroad, but many, will cross these plains. As for the telegraph, if only we had a way of tapping these wires, we might find it extremely useful to us all right now."

"The old ways were good enough," insisted Auberry. "As fur telegraphin', it ain't new on these plains. The Injuns could always telegraph, and they didn't need no poles nor wires. The Sioux may be at both ends of this bend, for all we know. They may have cleaned up all the wagons coming west. They have planned for a general wipin' out of the whites, and you can be plumb certain that what has happened here is knowed all acrost this country to-day, clean to the big bend of the Missouri, and on the Yellowstone, and west to the Rockies."

"How could that be?" asked Orme, suddenly, with interest. "You talk as if there were something in this country like the old 'secret mail' of East India, where I once lived."

"I don't know what you mean by that," said Auberry, "but I do know that the Injuns in this country have ways of talkin' at long range. Why, onct a bunch of us had five men killed up on the Powder River by the Crows. That was ten o'clock in the morning. By two in the afternoon everyone in the Crow village, two hundred miles away, knowed all about the fight—how many whites was killed, how many Injuns—the whole shootin'-match. How they done it, I don't know, but they shore done it. Any Western man knows that much about Injun ways."

"That is rather extraordinary," commented Orme.

"Nothin' extraordinary about it," said Auberry, "it's just common. Maybe they done it by lookin'-glasses and smokes—fact is, I know that's one way they use a heap. But they've got other ways of talkin'. Looks like a Injun could set right down on a hill, and think good and hard, and some other Injun a hundred miles away'd know what he was thinkin' about. You talk about a prairie fire runnin' fast—it ain't nothin' to the way news travels amongst the tribes."

Belknap expressed his contempt for all this sort of thing, but the old man assured him he would know more of this sort of thing when he had been longer in the West. "I know they do telegraph," reiterated the plainsman.

"I can well believe that," remarked Orme, quietly.

"Whether you do or not," said Auberry, "Injuns is strange critters. A few of us has married among Injuns and lived among them, and we have seen things you wouldn't believe if I told you."

"Tell some of them," said Orme. "I, for one, might believe them."

"Well, now," said the plainsman, "I will tell you some things I have seen their medicine men do, and ye can believe me or not, the way ye feel about it."

"I have seen 'em hold a pow-wow for two or three days at a time, some of 'em settin' 'round, dreamin', as they call it all of 'em starvin', whole camp howlin', everybody eatin' medicine herbs. Then after while, they all come and set down just like it was right out here in the open. Somebody pulls a naked Injun boy right out in the middle of them. Old Mr. Medicine Man, he stands up in the plain daylight, and he draws his bow and shoots a arrer plum through that boy. Boy squirms a heap and Mr. Medicine Man socks another arrer through him, cool as you please—I have seen that done. Then the medicine man steps up, cuts off the boy's head with his knife—holds it up plain, so everybody can see it. That looked pretty hard to me first time I ever seen it. But now the old medicine man takes a blanket and throws it over this dead boy. He lifts up a corner of the blanket, chucks the boy's head under it, and pulls down the edges of the blanket and puts rocks on them. Then he begins to sing, and the whole bunch gets up and dances 'round the blanket. After while, say a few minutes, medicine man pulls off the blanket—and thar gets up the boy, good as new, his head growed on good and tight as ever, and not a sign of an arrer on him 'cept the scars where the wounds has plumb healed up!"

Belknap laughed long and hard at this old trapper's yarn, and weak as I was myself, I was disposed to join him. Orme was the only one who did not ridicule the story. Auberry himself was disgusted at the merriment. "I knowed you wouldn't believe it," he said. "There is no use tellin' a passel of tenderfeet anything they hain't seed for theirselves. But I could tell you a heap more things. Why, I have seen their buffalo callers call a thousand buffalo right in from the plains, and over the edge of a cut bank, where they'd pitch down and bust theirselves to pieces. I can show you bones Of a hundred such places. Buffalo don't do that when they are alone—thay have got to be called, I tell you.

"Injuns can talk with other animals—they can call them others, too. I have seed an old medicine man, right out on the plain ground in the middle of the village, go to dancin', and I have seed him call three full-sized beavers right up out'n the ground—seed them with my own eyes, I tell you! Yes, and I have seed them three old beavers standin' right there, turn into full-growed old men, gray haired. I have seed 'em sit down at a fire and smoke, too, and finally get up when they got through, and clean out—just disappear back into the ground. Now, how you all explain them there things, I don't pretend to say; but there can't no man call me a liar, fur I seed 'em and seed 'em unmistakable."

Belknap and the others only smiled, but Orme turned soberly toward Auberry. "I don't call you a liar, my man," said he. "On the contrary, what you say is very interesting. I quite believe it, although I never knew before that your natives in this country were possessed of these powers."

"It ain't all of 'em can do it," said Auberry, "only a few men of a few tribes can do them things; but them that can shore can, and that's all I know about it."

"Quite so," said Orme. "Now, as it chances, I have traveled a bit in my time in the old countries of the East. I have seen some wonderful things done there."

"I have read about the East Indian jugglers," said Belknap, interested. "Tell me, have you seen those feats? are they feats, or simply lies?"

"They are actual occurrences," said Orme. "I have seen them with my own eyes, just as Auberry has seen the things he describes; and it is no more right to accuse the one than the other of us of untruthfulness.

"For instance, I have seen an Indian juggler take a plain bowl, such as they use for rice, and hold it out in his hand in the open sunlight; and then I have seen a little bamboo tree start in it and grow two feet high, right in the middle of the bowl, within the space of a minute or so.

"You talk about the old story of 'Jack and the Bean Stalk'; I have seen an old fakir take a bamboo stick, no thicker than his finger, and thrust it down in the ground and start and climb up it, as if it were a tree, and keep on climbing till he was out of sight; and then there would come falling down out of the sky, legs and arms, his head, pieces of his body. When these struck the ground, they would reassemble and make the man all over again—just like Auberry's dead boy, you know.

"These tricks are so common in Asia that they do not excite any wonder. As to tribal telegraph, they have got it there. Time and again, when our forces were marching against the hill tribes of northwestern India, we found they knew all of our plans a hundred miles ahead of us—how, none of us could tell—only the fact was there, plain and unmistakable."

"They never do tell," broke in Auberry. "You couldn't get a red to explain any of this to you—not even a squaw you have lived with for years. They certainly do stand pat for keeps."

"Yet once in a while," smiled Orme, in his easy way, "a white man does pick up some of these tricks. I believe I could do a few of them myself, if I liked—in fact, I have sometimes learned some of the simpler ones for my own amusement."

General exclamations of surprise and doubt greeted him from our little circle, and this seemed to nettle him somewhat. "By Jove!" he went on, "if you doubt it, I don't mind trying a hand at it right now. Perhaps I have forgotten something of my old skill, but we'll see. Come, hen."

All arose now and gathered about him on the ground there in the full sunlight. He evinced no uneasiness or surprise, and he employed no mechanism or deception which we could detect.

"My good man," said he to Auberry, "let me take your knife." Auberry loosed the long hunting-knife at his belt and handed it to him. Taking it, Orme seated himself cross-legged on a white blanket, which he spread out on the sandy soil.

All at once Orme looked up with an expression of surprise on his face. "This was not the knife I wanted," he said. "I asked for a plain American hunting-knife, not this one. See, you have given me a Malay kris! I have not the slightest idea where you got it."

We all looked intently at him. There, held up in his hand, was full proof of what he had said—a long blade of wavy steel, with a little crooked, carved handle. From what I had read, I saw this to be a kris, a wavy bladed knife of the Malays. It did not shine or gleam in the sun, but threw back a dull reflection from its gray steel, as though lead and silver mingled in its make. The blade was about thirty inches long, whereas that of Auberry's knife could not have exceeded eight inches at the most.

"We did not know you had that thing around you!" exclaimed Belknap. "That is only sleight of hand."

"Is it, indeed?" said Orme, smiling. "I tell you, I did not have it with me. After all, you see it is the same knife."

We all gaped curiously, and there, as I am a living man, we saw that wavy kris, extended in his hand, turn back into the form of the plainsman's hunting-knife! A gasp of wonder and half terror came from the circle. Some of the men drew back. I heard an Irish private swear and saw him cross himself. I do not explain these things, I only say I saw them.

"I was mistaken," said Orme, politely, "in offering so simple a test as this; but now, if you still think I had the kris in my clothing—how that could be, I don't know, I'm sure—and if you still wish to call my little performance sleight of hand, then I'll do something to prove what I have said, and make it quite plain that all my friend here has said is true and more than true. Watch now, and you will see blood drip from the point of this blade—every drop of blood it ever drew, of man or animal. Look, now—watch it closely."

We looked, and again, as I am a living man, and an honest one, I hope, I saw, as the others did, running from the point of the steel blade, a little trickling stream of red blood! It dropped in a stream, I say, and fell on the white blanket upon which Orme was sitting. It stained the blanket entirely red. At this sight the entire group broke apart, only a few remaining to witness the rest of the scene.

I do not attempt to explain this illusion, or whatever it was. I do not know how long it lasted; but presently, as I may testify, I saw Orme rise and kick at the wetted, bloodstained blanket. He lifted it, heavy with dripping blood. I saw the blood fall from its corners upon the ground.

"Ah," he remarked, calmly, "it's getting dry now. Here is your knife, my good fellow."

I looked about me, almost disposed to rub my eyes, as were, perhaps, the others of our party. The same great plains were there, the same wide shimmering stream, rippling in the sunlight, the same groups of animals grazing on the bluff, the same sentinels outlined against the sky. Over all shone the blinding light of the Western mid-day sun. Yet, as Orme straightened out this blanket, it was white as it had been before! Auberry looked at his knife blade as though he would have preferred to throw it away, but he sheathed it and it fitted the sheath as before.

Orme smiled at us all pleasantly. "Do you believe in the Indian telegraph now?" he inquired.

I have told you many things of this strange man, Gordon Orme, and I shall need to tell yet others. Sometimes my friends smile at me even yet over these things. But since that day, I have not doubted the tales old Auberry told me of our own Indians. Since then, too, I have better understood Gordon Orme and his strange personality, the like of which I never knew in any land.



How long it was I hardly knew, for I had slink into a sort of dull apathy in which one day was much like another; but at last we gathered our crippled party together and broke camp, our wounded men in the wagons, and so slowly passed on westward, up the trail. We supposed, what later proved to be true, that the Sioux had raided in the valley on both sides of us, and that the scattered portions of the army had all they could do, while the freight trains were held back until the road was clear.

I wearied of the monotony of wagon travel, and without council with any, finally, weak as I was, called for my horse and rode on slowly with the walking teams. I had gone for some distance before I heard hoofs on the sand behind me.

"Guess who it is," called a voice. "Don't turn your head."

"I can't turn," I answered; "but I know who it is."

She rode up alongside, where I could see her; and fair enough she was to look upon, and glad enough I was to look. She was thinner now with this prairie life, and browner, and the ends of her hair were still yellowing, like that of outdoors men. She still was booted and gloved after the fashion of civilization, and still elsewise garbed in the aboriginal costume, which she filled and honored graciously. The metal cylinders on her leggins rattled as she rode.

"You ought not to ride," she said. "You are pale."

"You are beautiful," said I; "and I ride because you are beautiful."

Her eyes were busy with her gloves, but I saw a sidelong glance. "I do not understand you," she said, demurely.

"I could not sit back there in the wagon and think," said I. "I knew that you would be riding before long, and I guessed I might, perhaps, talk with you."

She bit her lip and half pulled up her horse as if to fall back. "That will depend," was her comment. But we rode on, side by side, knee to knee.

Many things I had studied before then, for certain mysteries had come to me, as to many men, who wish logically to know the causes of great phenomena. From boyhood I had pondered many things. I had lain on my back and looked up at the stars and wondered how far they were, and how far the farthest thing beyond them was. I had wondered at that indeterminate quotient in my sums, where the same figure came, always the same, running on and on. I used to wonder what was my soul, and I fancied that it was a pale, blue flaming oblate, somewhere near my back and in the middle of my body—such was my boyish guess of what they told me was a real thing. I had pondered on that compass of the skies by which the wild fowl guide themselves. I had wondered, as a child, how far the mountains ran. As I had grown older I had read the law, read of the birth of civilization, pondered on laws and customs. Declaring that I must know their reasons, I had read of marriages in many lands, and many times had studied into the questions of dowry and bride-price, and consent of parents, and consent of the bride—studied marriage as a covenant, a contract, as a human and a so-called divine thing. I had questioned the cause of the old myth that makes Cupid blind. I had delved deep as I might in law, and history and literature, seeking to solve, as I might—what?

Ah, witless! it was to solve this very riddle that rode by my side now, to answer the question of the Sphinx. What had come of all my studies? Not so much as I was learning now, here in the open, with this sweet savage woman whose leggins tinkled as she rode, whose tunic swelled softly, whose jaw was clean and brown. How weak the precepts of the social covenant seemed. How feeble and far away the old world we too had known. And how infinitely sweet, how compellingly necessary now seemed to me this new, sweet world that swept around us now.

We rode on, side by side, knee to knee. Her garments rustled and tinkled.

Her voice awoke me from my brooding. "I wish, Mr. Cowles," said she, "that if you are strong enough and can do so without discomfort, you would ride with me each day when I ride."

"Why?" I asked. That was the wish in my own mind; but I knew her reason was not the same as mine.

"Because," she said. She looked at me, but would not answer farther.

"You ought to tell me," I said quietly.

"Because it is prescribed for you."

"Not by my doctor." I shook my head. "Why, then?"

"Stupid—oh, very stupid officer and gentleman!" she aid, smiling slowly. "Lieutenant Belknap has his duties to look after; and as for Mr. Orme, I am not sure he is either officer or gentleman."

She spoke quietly but positively. I looked on straight up the valley and pondered. Then I put out a hand and touched the fringe of her sleeve.

"I am going to try to be a gentleman," said I. "But I wish some fate would tell me why it is a gentleman can be made from nothing but a man."



Our slow travel finally brought us near to the historic forks of the Platte where that shallow stream stretches out two arms, one running to the mountains far to the south, the other still reaching westward for a time. Between these two ran the Oregon Trail, pointing the way to the Pacific, and on this trail, somewhere to the west, lay Laramie. Before us now lay two alternatives. We could go up the beaten road to Laramie, or we could cross here and take an old trail on the north side of the river for a time. Auberry thought this latter would give better feed and water, and perhaps be safer as to Indians, so we held a little council over it.

The Platte even here was a wide, treacherous stream, its sandy bottom continuously shifting. At night the melted floods from the mountains came down and rendered it deeper than during the day, when for the most part it was scarcely more than knee deep. Yet here and there at any time, undiscoverable to the eye, were watery pitfalls where the sand was washed out, and in places there was shifting quicksand, dangerous for man or animal.

"We'll have to boat across," said Auberry finally. "We couldn't get the wagons over loaded." Wherefore we presently resorted to the old Plains makeshift of calking the wagon bodies and turning them into boats, it being thought probable that two or three days would be required to make the crossing in this way. By noon of the following day our rude boats were ready and our work began.

I was not yet strong enough to be of much assistance, so I sat on the bank watching the busy scene. Our men were stripped to the skin, some of the mountaineers brown almost as Indians, for even in those days white hunters often rode with no covering but the blanket, and not that when the sun was warm. They were now in, now out of the water, straining at the lines which steadied the rude boxes that bore our goods, pulling at the heads of the horses and mules, shouting, steadying, encouraging, always getting forward. It took them nearly an hour to make the first crossing, and presently we could see the fire of their farther camp, now occupied by some of those not engaged in the work.

As I sat thus I was joined by Mandy McGovern, who pulled out her contemplative pipe. "Did you see my boy, Andy Jackson?" she asked. "He went acrost with the first bunch—nary stitch of clothes on to him. He ain't much thicker'n a straw, but say—he was a-rastlin' them mules and a-swearin' like a full-growed man! I certainly have got hopes that boy's goin' to come out all right. Say, I heerd him tell the cook this mornin' he wasn't goin' to take no more sass off n him. I has hopes—I certainly has hopes, that Andrew Jackson '11 kill a man some time yit; and like enough it'll be right soon."

I gave my assent to this amiable hope, and presently Mandy went on.

"But say, man, you and me has got to get that girl acrost somehow, between us. You know her and me—and sometimes that Englishman—travels along in the amberlanch. She's allowed to me quiet that when the time come for her to go acrost, she'd ruther you and me went along. She's all ready now, if you air."

"Very good," said I, "we'll go now—they've got a fire there, and are cooking, I suppose."

Mandy left me, and I went for my own horse. Presently we three, all mounted, met at the bank. Taking the girl between us, Mandy and I started, and the three horses plunged down the bank. As it chanced, we struck a deep channel at the send-off, and the horses were at once separated. The girl was swept out of her saddle, but before I could render any assistance she called out not to be alarmed. I saw that she was swimming, down stream from the horse, with one hand on the pommel. Without much concern, she reached footing on the bar at which the horse scrambled up.

"Now I'm good and wet," laughed she. "It won't make any difference after this. I see now how the squaws do."

We plunged on across the stream, keeping our saddles for most of the way, sometimes in shallow water, sometimes on dry, sandy bars, and now and again in swift, swirling channels; but at last we got over and fell upon the steaks of buffalo and the hot coffee which we found at the fire. The girl presently left us to make such changes in her apparel as she might. Mandy and I were left alone once more.

"It seems to me like it certainly is too bad," said she bitterly, over her pipe stem, "that there don't seem to be no real man around nowhere fittin' to marry a real woman. That gal's good enough for a real man, like my first husband was."

"What could he do?" I asked her, smiling.

"Snuff a candle at fifty yards, or drive a nail at forty. He nach'elly scorned to bring home a squirrel shot back of the ears. He killed four men in fair knife fightin', an' each time come free in co'te. He was six foot in the clean, could hug like a bar, and he wa'n't skeered of anything that drawed the breath of life."

"Tell me, Aunt Mandy," I said, "tell me how he came courting you, anyway."

"He never did no great at co'tin'," said she, grinning. "He just come along, an' he sot eyes on me. Then he sot eyes on me again. I sot eyes on him, too."


"One evenin', says he, 'Mandy, gal, I'm goin' to marry you all right soon.'

"Says I, 'No, you ain't!'

"Says he, 'Yes, I air!' I jest laughed at him then and started to run away, but he jumped and ketched me—I told you he could hug like a bar. Mebbe I wasn't hard to ketch. Then he holds me right tight, an' says he,' Gal, quit this here foolin'. I'm goin' to marry you, you hear!—then maybe he kisses me—law! I dunno! Whut business is it o' yourn, anyhow? That's about all there was to it. I didn't seem to keer. But that," she concluded, "was a real man. He shore had my other two men plumb faded."

"What became of your last husband, Mandy?" I asked, willing to be amused for a time. "Did he die?"

"Nope, didn't die."

"Divorced, eh?"

"Deevorced, hell! No, I tole you, I up an' left him."

"Didn't God join you in holy wedlock, Mandy?"

"No, it was the Jestice of the Peace."


"Yep. And them ain't holy none—leastways in Missouri. But say, man, look yere, it ain't God that marries folks, and it ain't Jestices of the Peace—it's theirselves."

I pondered for a moment. "But your vow—your promise?"

"My promise? Whut's the word of a woman to a man? Whut's the word of a man to a woman? It ain't words, man, it's feelin's."

"In sickness or in health?" I quoted.

"That's all right, if your feelin's is all right. The Church is all right, too. I ain't got no kick. All I'm sayin' to you is, folks marries theirselves."

I pondered yet further. "Mandy," said I, "suppose you were a man, and your word was given to a girl, and you met another girl and couldn't get her out of your head, or out of your heart—you loved the new one most and knew you always would—what would you do?"

But the Sphinx of womanhood may lie under linsey-woolsey as well as silk. "Man," said she, rising and knocking her pipe against her bony knee, "you talk like a fool. If my first husband was alive, he might maybe answer that for you."



Later in the evening, Mandy McGovern having left me, perhaps for the purpose of assisting her protegee in the somewhat difficult art of drying buckskin clothing, I was again alone on the river bank, idly watching the men out on the bars, struggling with their teams and box boats. Orme had crossed the river some time earlier, and now he joined me at the edge of our disordered camp.

"How is the patient getting along?" he inquired. I replied, somewhat surlily, I fear, that I was doing very well, and thenceforth intended to ride horseback and to comport myself as though nothing had happened.

"I am somewhat sorry to hear that," said he, still smiling in his own way. "I was in hopes that you would be disposed to turn back down the river, if Belknap would spare you an escort east."

I looked at him in surprise. "I don't in the least understand why I should be going east, when my business lies in precisely the opposite direction," I remarked, coolly.

"Very well, then, I will make myself plain," he went on, seating himself beside me. "Granted that you will get well directly—which is very likely, for the equal of this Plains air for surgery does not exist in the world—I may perhaps point out to you that at least your injury might serve as an explanation—as an excuse—you might put it that way—for your going back home. I thought perhaps that your duty lay there as well."

"You become somewhat interested in my affairs, Mr. Orme?"

"Very much so, if you force me to say it."

"I think they need trouble you no farther."

"I thought that possibly you might be sensible of a certain obligation to me," he began.

"I am deeply sensible of it. Are you pleased to tell me what will settle this debt between us?"

He turned squarely toward me and looked me keenly in the eye. "I have told you. Turn about and go home. That is all."

"I do not understand you."

"But I understand your position perfectly."


"That your affections are engaged with a highly respectable young lady back at your home in Virginia. Wait—" he raised his hand as I turned toward him. "Meaning also," he went on, "that your affections are apparently also somewhat engaged with an equally respectable young lady who is not back home in Virginia. Therefore—"

He caught my wrist in a grip of steel as I would have struck him. I saw then that I still was weak.

"Wait," he said, smiling coldly. "Wait till you are stronger."

"You are right," I said, "but we shall settle these matters."

"That, of course. But in the meantime, I have only suggested to you that could you agree with me in my point of view our obligation as it stands would be settled."

"Orme," said I, suddenly, "your love is a disgrace to any woman."

"Usually," he admitted, calmly, "but not in this case. I propose to marry Miss Meriwether; and I tell you frankly, I do not propose to have anything stand in my way."

"Then, by God!" I cried, "take her. Why barter and dicker over any woman with another man? The field is open. Do what you can. I know that is the way I'd do."

"Oh, certainly; but one needs all his chances even in an open field, in a matter so doubtful as this. I thought that I would place it before you—knowing your situation back in Virginia—and ask you—"

"Orme," said I, "one question—Why did you not kill me the other day when you could? Your tracks would have been covered. As it is, I may later have to uncover some tracks for you."

"I preferred it the other way," he remarked, still smiling his inscrutable smile.

"You surely had no scruples about it."

"Not in the least. I'd as soon have killed you as to have taken a drink of water. But I simply love to play any kind of game that tests me, tries me, puts me to my utmost mettle. I played that game in my own way."

"I was never very subtle," I said to him simply.

"No, on the contrary, you are rather dull. I dared not kill you—it would have been a mistake in the game. It would have cost me her sympathy at once. Since I did not, and since, therefore, you owe me something for that fact, what do you say about it yourself, my friend?"

I thought for a long time, my head between my hands, before I answered him. "That I shall pay you some day Orme, but not in any such way as you suggest."

"Then it is to be war?" he asked, quietly.

I shrugged my shoulders. "You heard me."

"Very well!" he replied, calmly, after a while. "But listen. I don't forget. If I do not have my pay voluntarily in the way I ask, I shall some day collect it in my own fashion."

"As you like. But we Cowles men borrow no fears very far in advance."

Orme rose and stood beside me, his slender figure resembling less that of a man than of some fierce creature, animated by some uncanny spirit, whose motives did not parallel those of human beings. "Then, Mr. Cowles, you do not care to go back down the valley, and to return to the girl in Virginia?"

"You are a coward to make any such request."

His long white teeth showed as he answered. "Very well," he said. "It is the game. Let the best man win. Shall it then be war?"

"Let the best man win," I answered. "It is war."

We both smiled, each into the other's face.



When finally our entire party had been gotten across the Platte, and we had resumed our westward journey, the routine of travel was, for the time, broken, and our line of march became somewhat scattered across the low, hilly country to which we presently came. For my own part, our progress seemed too slow, and mounting my horse, I pushed on in advance of the column, careless of what risk this might mean in an Indian country. I wished to be alone; and yet I wished to be not alone. I hoped that might occur which presently actually did happen.

It was early in the afternoon when I heard her horse's feet coming up behind me as I rode. She passed me at a gallop; laughing back as though in challenge, and so we raced on for a time, until we quite left out of sight behind us the remainder of our party. Ellen Meriwether was a Virginia girl with Western experience, and it goes without saying that she rode well—of course in the cavalry saddle and with the cross seat. Her costume still was composed of the somewhat shriveled and wrinkled buckskins which had been so thoroughly wetted in crossing the river. I noticed that she had now even discarded her shoes, and wore the aboriginal costume almost in full, moccasins and all, her gloves and hat alone remaining to distinguish her in appearance at a distance from a native woman of the Plains. The voluminous and beruffled skirts of the period, and that feminine monstrosity of the day, the wide spreading crinoline, she had left far behind her at the Missouri River. Again the long curls, which civilization at that time decreed, had been forgotten. Her hair at the front and sides half-waved naturally, but now, instead of neck curls or the low dressing of the hair which in those days partly covered the fashionable forehead, she had, like a native woman, arranged her hair in two long braids. Her hat, no longer the flat straw or the flaring, rose-laden bonnet of the city, was now simply a man's cavalry hat, and almost her only mark of coquetry was the rakish cockade which confined it at one side. Long, heavy-hooped earrings such as women at that time wore, and which heretofore I had never known her to employ, she now disported. Brown as her face was now becoming, one might indeed, at a little distance, have suspected her to be rather a daughter of the Plains than a belle of civilization. I made some comment on this. She responded by sitting the more erect in her saddle and drawing a long, deep breath.

"I think I shall throw away my gloves," she said, "and hunt up some brass bracelets. I grow more Indian every day. Isn't it glorious, here on the Plains? Isn't it glorious!"

It so seemed to me, and I so advised her, saying I wished the western journey might be twice as long.

"But Mr. Orme was saying that he rather thought you might take an escort and go back down the river."

"I wish Mr. Orme no disrespect," I answered, "but neither he nor any one else regulates my travel. I have already told you how necessary it was for me to see your father, Colonel Meriwether."

"Yes, I remember. But tell me, why did not your father himself come out?"

I did not answer her for a time. "My father is dead," I replied finally.

I saw her face flush in quick trouble and embarrassment. "Why did you not tell me? I am so sorry! I beg your pardon."

"No," I answered quietly, "we Quakers never wish to intrude our own griefs, or make any show of them. I should have told you, but there were many other things that prevented for the time." Then, briefly, I reviewed the happenings that had led to my journey into the West. Her sympathy was sweet to me.

"So now, you see, I ought indeed to return," I concluded, "but I can not. We shall be at Laramie now very soon. After that errand I shall go back to Virginia."

"And that will be your home?"

"Yes," I said bitterly. "I shall settle down and become a staid old farmer. I shall be utterly cheerless."

"You must not speak so. You are young."

"But you," I ventured, "will always live with the Army?"

"Why, our home is in Virginia, too, over in old Albemarle, though we don't often see it. I have been West since I came out of school, pretty much all the time, and unless there should be a war I suppose I shall stay always out here with my father. My mother died when I was very young."

"And you will never come back to quiet old Virginia, where plodding farmers go on as their fathers did a hundred years ago?"

She made no immediate answer, and when she did, apparently mused on other things. "The Plains," she said, "how big—how endless they are! Is it not all wild and free?"

Always she came back to that same word "free." Always she spoke of wildness, of freedom.

"For all one could tell, there might be lions and tigers and camels and gazelles out there." She gestured vaguely toward the wide horizon. "It is the desert."

We rode on for a time, silent, and I began to hum to myself the rest of the words of an old song, then commonly heard:

"O come with me, and be my love, For thee the jungle's depths I'll rove. I'll chase the antelope over the plain, And the tiger's cub I'll bind with a chain, And the wild gazelle with the silvery feet I'll give to thee for a playmate sweet."

"Poets," said I, "can very well sing about such things, but perhaps they could not practice all they sing. They always—"

"Hush!" she whispered, drawing her horse gently down to a walk, and finally to a pause. "Look! Over there is one of the wild gazelles."

I followed the direction of her eyes and saw, peering curiously down at us from beyond the top of a little ridge, something like a hundred yards away, the head, horns, and neck of a prong-horn buck, standing facing us, and seeming not much thicker than a knife blade. Her keen eyes caught this first; my own, I fancy, being busy elsewhere. At once I slipped out of my saddle and freed the long, heavy rifle from its sling. I heard her voice, hard now with eagerness. I caught a glance at her face, brown between her braids. She was a savage woman!

"Quick!" she whispered. "He'll run."

Eager as she, but deliberately, I raised the long barrel to line and touched the trigger. I heard the thud of the ball against the antelope's shoulder, and had no doubt that we should pick it up dead, for it disappeared, apparently end over end, at the moment of the shot. Springing into the saddle, I raced with my companion to the top of the ridge. But, lo! there was the antelope two hundred yards away, and going as fast on three legs as our horses were on four.

"Ride!" she called. "Hurry!" And she spurred off at breakneck speed in pursuit, myself following, both of us now forgetting poesy, and quite become creatures of the chase.

The prong-horn, carrying lead as only the prong-horn can, kept ahead of us, ridge after ridge, farther and farther away, mile after mile, until our horses began to blow heavily, and our own faces were covered with perspiration. Still we raced on, neck and neck, she riding with hands low and weight slightly forward, workmanlike as a jockey. Now and again I heard her call out in eagerness.

We should perhaps have continued this chase until one or the other of the horses dropped, but now her horse picked up a pebble and went somewhat lame. She pulled up and told me to ride on alone. After a pause I slowly approached the top of the next ridge, and there, as I more than half suspected, I saw the antelope lying down, its head turned back. Eager to finish the chase, I sprang down, carelessly neglecting to throw the bridle rein over my horse's head. Dropping flat, I rested on my elbow and fired carefully once more. This time the animal rolled over dead. I rose, throwing up my hat with a shout of victory, and I heard, shrilling to me across the distance, her own cry of exultation, as that of some native woman applauding a red hunter.

Alas for our joy of victory! Our success was our undoing. The very motion of my throwing up my hat, boyish as it was, gave fright to my horse, already startled by the shot. He flung up his head high, snorted, and was off, fast as he could go. I followed him on foot, rapidly as I could, but he would none of that, and was all for keeping away from me at a safe distance. This the girl saw, and she rode up now, springing down and offering me her horse.

"Stay here," I called to her as I mounted. "I'll be back directly"; and then with such speed as I could spur out of my new mount, I started again after the fugitive.

It was useless. Her horse, already lame and weary, and further handicapped by my weight, could not close with the free animal, and without a rope to aid me in the capture, it would have been almost impossible to have stopped him, even had I been able to come alongside. I headed him time and again, and turned him, but it was to no purpose. At last I suddenly realized that I had no idea how far I had gone or in what direction. I must now think of my companion. Never was more welcome sight than when I saw her on a distant ridge, waving her hat. I gave up the chase and returned to her, finding that in her fatigue she had sunk to the ground exhausted. She herself had run far away from the spot where I had left 'her.

"I was afraid," she panted. "I followed. Can't you catch him?"

"No," said I, "he's gone. He probably will go back to the trail."

"No," she said, "they run wild, sometimes. But now what shall we do?"

I looked at her in anxiety. I had read all my life of being afoot on the Plains. Here was the reality.

"But you are hurt," she cried. "Look, your wound is bleeding."

I had not known it, but my neck was wet with blood.

"Get up and ride," she said. "We must be going." But I held the stirrup for her instead, smiling.

"Mount!" I said, and so I put her up.

"Shall we go back to camp?" she asked in some perturbation, apparently forgetting that there was no camp, and that by this time the wagons would be far to the west. For reasons of my own I thought it better to go back to the dead antelope, and so I told her.

"It is over there," she said, pointing in the direction from which she thought she had come. I differed with her, remembering I had ridden with the sun in my face when following it, and remembering the shape of the hilltop near by. Finally my guess proved correct, and we found the dead animal, nearly a mile from where she had waited for me. I hurried with the butchering, cutting the loin well forward, and rolling it all tight in the hide, bound the meat behind the saddle.

"Now, shall we go back?" she asked. "If we rode opposite to the sun, we might strike the trail. These hills look all alike."

"The river runs east and west," I said, "so we might perhaps better strike to the southward."

"But I heard them say that the river bends far to the south not far from where we crossed. We might parallel the river if we went straight south."

"But does not the trail cut off the bend, and run straight west?" I rejoined. Neither of us knew that the course of the north fork ran thence far to the northwest and quite away from the trail to Laramie.

Evidently our council was of little avail. We started southwest as nearly as we could determine it, and I admit that grave anxiety had now settled upon me. In that monotonous country only the sun and the stars might guide one. Now, hard as it was to admit the thought, I realized that we would be most fortunate if we saw the wagons again that night. I had my watch with me, and with this I made the traveler's compass, using the dial and the noon mark to orient myself; but this was of small assistance, for we were not certain of the direction of the compass in which the trail lay. As a matter of fact, it is probable that we went rather west than southwest, and so paralleled both the trail and the river for more than a dozen miles that afternoon. The girl's face was very grave, and now and again she watched me walking or trotting alongside at such speed as I could muster. My clothing was covered with blood from my wound.

I looked always for some little rivulet which I knew must lead us to the Platte, but we struck no running water until late that evening, and then could not be sure that we had found an actual water course. There were some pools of water standing in a coulee, at whose head grew a clump of wild plum trees and other straggly growth. At least here was water and some sort of shelter. I dared go no farther.

Over in the west I saw rising a low, black bank of clouds. A film was coming across the sky. Any way I looked I could see no break, no landmark, no trend of the land which could offer any sort of guidance. I wished myself all places in the world but there, and reproached myself bitterly that through my clumsiness I had brought the girl into such a situation.

"Miss Meriwether," I said to her finally, putting my hand on the pommel of her saddle as we halted, "it's no use. We might as well admit it; we are lost."



She made no great outcry. I saw her bend her face forward into her hands.

"What shall we do?" she asked at length.

"I do not know," said I to her soberly; "but since there is water here and a little shelter, it is my belief that we ought to stop here for the night."

She looked out across the gray monotony that surrounded us, toward the horizon now grown implacable and ominous. Her eyes were wide, and evidently she was pondering matters in her mind. At last she turned to me and held out her hands for me to assist her in dismounting.

"John Cowles, of Virginia," she said, "I am sorry we are lost."

I could make no answer, save to vow silently that if I lived she must be returned safely to her home, unhurt body and soul. I dared not ponder on conventions in a case so desperate as I knew ours yet might be. Silently I unsaddled the horse and hobbled it securely as I might with the bridle rein. Then I spread the saddle blanket for her to sit upon, and hurried about for Plains fuel. Water we drank from my hat, and were somewhat refreshed. Now we had food and water. We needed fire. But this, when I came to fumble in my pockets, seemed at first impossible, for I found not a match.

"I was afraid of that," she said, catching the meaning of my look. "What shall we do? We shall starve!"

"Not in the least," said I, stoutly. "We are good Indians enough to make a fire, I hope."

In my sheath was a heavy hunting knife; and now, searching about us on the side of the coulee bank, I found several flints, hard and white. Then I tore out a bit of my coat lining and moistened it a trifle, and saturated it with powder from my flask, rubbed in until it all was dry. This niter-soaked fabric I thought might serve as tinder for the spark. So then I struck flint and steel, and got the strange spark, hidden in the cold stone ages and ages there on the Plains; and presently the spark was a little flame, and then a good fire, and so we were more comfortable.

We roasted meat now, flat on the coals, the best we might, and so we ate, with no salt to aid us. The girl became a trifle more cheerful, though still distant and quiet. If I rose to leave the fire for an instant, I saw her eyes following me all the time. I knew her fears, though she did not complain.

Man is the most needful of all the animals, albeit the most resourceful. We needed shelter, and we had none. Night came on. The great gray wolves, haunters of the buffalo herds, roared their wild salute to us, savage enough to strike terror to any woman's soul. The girl edged close to me as the dark came down. We spoke but little. Our dangers had not yet made us other than conventional.

Now, worst of all, the dark bank of cloud arose and blotted out all the map of the stars. The sun scarce had sunk before a cold breath, silent, with no motion in its coming, swept across or settled down upon the Plains. The little grasses no longer stirred in the wind. The temperature mysteriously fell more and more, until it was cold, very cold. And those pale, heatless flames, icy as serpent tongues played along the darkening heavens, and mocked at us who craved warmth and shelter. I felt my own body shiver. She looked at me startled.

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